“All the appeal of Mika’s most irritating moments and a healthy dollop of Katie White’s, only with helium”
Digital Release: June 5, 2011
Physical Release: July 17, 2011
Nicola Roberts embarks on her solo career from an unquestionably enviable position. Once one fifth of the UK’s most loved pop-peddling girl band with more top ten hits than anyone currently in the Top 40, many new aspiring artists would happily give an arm and a leg for that kind of leg-up. But on the other hand, she was frequently regarded as the one the didn’t quite look as good as the other four (though there’s no doubt harsher words were used), and she often appeared to take back seats not just in songs, but in interviews, award ceremonies, public appearances and so forth, and to many this came across as timidity or shyness, even nonchalance when drastically misread. But to others it’s what made her the most interesting. She created a puzzling enigma when the others left little to the imagination; the fifth girl; the ugly duckling, and it was all part of the intrigue of Nicola Roberts.
Suffice to say there was a lot of interest in the news that she was recording her own album, and unlike the mind-field of misfortune that riddled Nadine’s (attempt at a) solo career, Nicola was signed to a big girl’s label from the start: Universal Records.
And the fruit of her work has finally been revealed. ‘Beat Of My Drum’ was as described as “very British” and, when she confirmed she was working with DJ Diplo (Beyoncé’s ‘Run The World (Girls)’), you could tell it wasn’t going to be your average pop single. But even with all this positive hype, nothing quite prepared Radio 1’s listeners when they were caught off-guard for the début of this quite alarming lead single – and let’s be perfectly clear about this: alarming in a very, very bad way.
Playfulness is an understatement: this song is plain immature. And even though fully armed with a metaphor to make Rihanna blush, Nicola’s vocal delivery is awful. Sounding more like a children’s sing-a-long chant you’d expect to hear in the deepest, darkest, most camp parts of Butlins, any moment you find yourself listening to the song, you wonder when the over-sized animal mascot is going to jump out of nowhere and ask for your picture to be taken with him as the song slams unforgivably into your ears-drums like an annoying child filled with too much sugar. The chorus is the worst-offending part, with lyrics that took about four seconds to write, she sings them with all the appeal of Mika’s most irritating moments and a healthy dollop of Katie White’s, only with helium and an over-excited, carnivalistic production – “L! O! V! E! Dance to the beat of my drum!/Dance to the beat of my drum!”, she half sings, half shouts. The chorus is dire, the bridge is shoe-horned in and remarkably out of tune, and the verses are barely memorable, but as a whole, connected unit… well, “connected” isn’t the key word. The only redeeming factor is the half-decent drum breakdown two-thirds in, and even that doesn’t manage to leave a lasting impression.
It’s a crying shame as Nicola had so much potential, and her rise to solo fame couldn’t have come at a better time: Nadine is still licking the wounds of her own backfired career, and Cheryl is little more than an unemployed talent show judge. Twice. And the rare moments when Nicola was allowed to take the lead vocal reigns on Girls Aloud’s album cuts prove she’s lent her talents to far superior material, as does this single’s B-Side, ‘Porcelain Heart’. But ‘Beat Of My Drum’ is an complete non-song with all the capacity to enrage those unlucky enough to hear it more than twice.